When the reclusive, elderly and utterly glamorous Hollywood screen idol of last century, Evelyn Hugo, invites an obscure journalist, Monique Grant, to write an exclusive story about her for a magazine, little does Grant – or her employer – know what she’s agreed to do. A fading star who captivated audiences and the public with her films and the gossipy stories of her many husbands, affairs, the terrible losses and magnificent successes she survived, Hugo is still an enigma to many. The chance to put the record straight once and for all is, for Monique, too good to be true.
Struggling with personal issues, Monique nonetheless is flattered and seizes the opportunity being given to her, only, as the days go by and Hugo’s incredible tale unfolds, she also wonders why, of all those who could have written this story, she has been chosen. What possible reason could this powerful, intelligent woman, with fox-cunning and an unapologetic knack of always getting what she wants, have for choosing her?
Taking Monique and thus the reader back to her childhood in Hell’s Kitchen in New York, Hugo’s story is breath-taking in its audacity, courage and chutzpah. Beautiful, mildly talented, but knowing how to use the gifts she’s been given to forge ahead, and not caring what others think, Hugo’s tale is as much about female subordination, patriarchy, the Hollywood star-system, sex, sexuality, beauty, ageing, power and its abuses, as it is about a woman learning to navigate a life for herself and those she loves through this.
Taking heed of Hugo’s story, Monique finds herself alternately touched and inspired, inspired to use the lessons Hugo’s imparting to improve her own life. But when she learns the truth behind the story, about why she was chosen to write it, it threatens to unravel not only what she thought she knew about the actress, but about herself as well.
This is an easy, terrific read that takes you back in time on one woman’s remarkable and not always easy to stomach journey. The hurdles and prejudices she overcomes, the way in which men particularly underestimate her and others, the choices she bravely makes, and the hard decisions she stands by are compelling reading. Not always easy to like, it is easy to fall in love with Evelyn Hugo – the hard, wise, and always compassionate woman – even when at her hardest and most selfish. Terrible things were written and thought about the beautiful starlet, but none were as bad, raw or honest as what she wants Monique to write now.
Question is, can Monique do the woman justice? Especially once the truth is revealed…
Great escapist read.